A conversation with Wolfgang Voigt
The Minimal techno innovator and Kompakt co-founder heads to Big Ears
With more than two decades of activity under his belt, Wolfgang Voigt is best known as a kingpin of modern techno. Deconstructing the foundations poured by the genre’s earliest builders in Chicago and Detroit, Voigt altered the course of techno’s infinite beat into distinctly minimalist territories. The resulting sound is hallmarked by an unwavering 4/4 beat, flanked by any number of abstract ideas and sonic experimentation. As Gas, Voigt creates carefully manicured sets of focused, pulsing melancholia and blissful “pop” ambient music that are as danceable as they are meditative. To some, the rhythmic regimen might impede musical exploration, but Voigt–born and based in Cologne, Germany–sees the constraints as a happy challenge, exploiting a single approach or subtle tweak into as many ideas as possible.
Since co-founding seminal German techno imprint Kompakt and initiating his recording career — both of which came in 1998 — Voigt has led a curious trail of micro-projects and aliases, such as Mike Ink, Studio1, M:I:5, Love Inc., Freiland, and Wassermann. Voigt’s GAS project has blossomed the most, though, serving as one of the most influential efforts in the world of ambient techno. In time, GAS would be name-checked by the likes of Pole, the Field, Oval, Terre Thaemlitz, Huerco S., and many more.
GAS resurfaced last year with Narkopop, the project’s first album in 17 years, which is now followed by Rausch, out May 18 on Kompakt. In the weeks leading up to a rare live performance at Knoxville, Tenn.’s annual Big Ears Festival, Voigt took a few minutes to weigh in on the revival and the lasting legacy of GAS.
After 17 years, how did you begin recording and thinking about new GAS work?
GAS has never been really gone. It has always been present and somehow has become more and more timeless over the years. When I produced Narkopop, I just started from where I stopped 17 years ago.
How has the response to the live GAS shows been? What's it like performing under the name again?
We are living in very fast times, people are impatient and get bored very quickly these days. GAS live is a nonstop concert rather for a seated listening audience. The audiovisual part of the performance is very intense. If after 15 minutes of playing all smartphones are switched off and nearly nobody has left the room, the show is successful.
Do you envision GAS continuing on as a more regular project again?
You had Visa and passport issues late last year. Did everything get sorted out after those headaches?
Yes, this was a nightmare. But meanwhile all problems are fixed and I’m now really looking forward to play in the USA [this month].
What can audiences expect on this tour? And for Big Ears specifically?
Ideally I can pick up people for a one hour nonstop audiovisual trip to the psychedelic German pop art forest, in the way I see it.
Are there any sets at Big Ears that you're anticipating?
Hopefully. Usually I never watch any other shows before my own gig, just to keep my mind free. And then GAS will be one of the last shows on Saturday night, so there is not much left to see …
Do you feel like GAS or any of your other projects has endured so much more powerfully than others? Or do they all hold a special place in your mind and in the audience's' mind?
To myself almost all of my (too) many projects of the last 20 years have a certain meaning. Some of them still do. And so it is with my audience. There is some revival going on at the moment of this kind of abstract minimal techno music I made in the late ’90s. But GAS has definitely the most international and overall relevance.
When you started working on GAS material, did you have an affinity toward any artists using decay and time and ghostliness as a medium? Do you look to any older or newer artists for inspiration?
Like every artist, some of my ideas are somehow inspired by people who I look up to. But there is no certain example for GAS.
GAS is GAS.